Our Team

We are so privileged to serve the children and families that we love. Please take a moment to meet our Board of Directors:

Chief Executive Director & Treasurer

Michele Knowlton-Thorne

After both of her children were diagnosed with autism and she saw the need to provide parents with emotional, physical and educational support, Michele Knowlton-Thorne founded D.A.M.E.S LLC.

As President of D.A.M.E.S Charities Inc. Michele plans to continue creating programs, apps, events

Michele Knowlton-Thorne

After both of her children were diagnosed with autism and she saw the need to provide parents with emotional, physical and educational support, Michele Knowlton-Thorne founded D.A.M.E.S LLC.

As President of D.A.M.E.S Charities Inc. Michele plans to continue creating programs, apps, events, and support groups to help parents who are raising children with different health care needs.

Before founding D.A.M.E.S Michele worked as a geneticist at TGen and has an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology and a Master of Science Degree from Arizona State University. She also worked as an adjunct professor, re-wrote biological manuals for ASU, published in peer-reviewed journal articles and is the author of a STEM picture book series.

After the diagnosis of her children she founded D.A.M.E.S, became a Certified Autism Specialist and founded the Care for the Giver Conference. She graduated from the Pilot Parents of Southern Arizona Partners in the Leadership program. She has been trained as a Flourishing Families Practitioner, a Protective Factors Trainer, and as a Triple P Stepping Stones Practitioner. Michele also sits on the ALTCS Advisory Council as a parent representative and the ICC Financial Committee.

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Chief Operations Officer

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi a licensed associate counselor as well as a certified rehabilitation counselor. Gabrielle has five years of both teaching and counseling experience. She currently works as the clinical director at Helping Everyday Youth, working with children to help provide community and school base treatment programs that address the…

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi a licensed associate counselor as well as a certified rehabilitation counselor. Gabrielle has five years of both teaching and counseling experience. She currently works as the clinical director at Helping Everyday Youth, working with children to help provide community and school base treatment programs that address the external behaviors of youth with the goal to help at-risk youth to succeed in everyday life. She also works at the University of Arizona as an adjunct professor. As a counselor at the non profit DIRECT Center for Independence she was able to establish a counseling program for individuals with disabilities and their families. She has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Teaching courses in both rehabilitation and counselor education. Her specialty and research areas focus on disability adjustment, independent living, resilience and disability identity. She also serves as the chair of the mayors commission on disability issues to help raise awareness around bettering the lives of disabled individuals in our community. Her passion is to advocate for the equality and justice for the disability community.

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Chairman

Illyssa Tussing

Illyssa Tussing is an Arizona native raising 2 more natives. Illyssa married her high school sweetheart and settled down in Gilbert, Arizona to raise their two boys.

Illyssa owns a tech support company called Creative Tech AZ which provides tech support and web design to small businesses around the Valley

Illyssa Tussing

Illyssa Tussing is an Arizona native raising 2 more natives. Illyssa married her high school sweetheart and settled down in Gilbert, Arizona to raise their two boys.

Illyssa owns a tech support company called Creative Tech AZ which provides tech support and web design to small businesses around the Valley.

She is a part of DAMES because she has two different special needs boys. Her oldest son has Autism and her second son has a rare disease, RYR-1. These differences allow her to see both sides of special needs, children with mental disorders as well as children with physical disorders. This unique dynamic gives itself to many opportunities in the community and experiences which can help others.

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Secretary

Courtney Deeren

I am a licensed associate counselor with a background in child and family therapy and childhood trauma. My Masters Degree is in Rehabilitation Counseling in the field of Disability Studies, with a specialty in Psychiatric Rehabilitation. My first encounter with disabilities was when my father had a stroke when I…

Courtney Deeren

I am a licensed associate counselor with a background in child and family therapy and childhood trauma. My Masters Degree is in Rehabilitation Counseling in the field of Disability Studies, with a specialty in Psychiatric Rehabilitation. My first encounter with disabilities was when my father had a stroke when I was 12 years old, which forever changed the dynamics of my family. This set me on a path of learning how family trauma affects mental health and how disabilities can impact families. 

In 2014, my son was born with a rare genetic disorder called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome and I became his full time caregiver. Despite my professional and educational background, I found myself lost navigating complicated systems while also trying to manage my own health. It was hard to find anyone who truly understood what my family was going through and what we needed. Through this experience, I really began to appreciate the necessity of mental healthcare and community resources specifically for families of individuals with disabilities. I am thrilled to be involved in DAMES to help bridge this gap in caregiver support. This road is long but, with the right support, I believe we can make it through.

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Board Member

Matt Wells

After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science in finance, Matt worked with both the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Through his work with the agencies, Matt reviewed and evaluated banks and their loans to individuals and businesses. This exposure…

Matt Wells

After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science in finance, Matt worked with both the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Through his work with the agencies, Matt reviewed and evaluated banks and their loans to individuals and businesses. This exposure gave him extensive knowledge of personal finance, tax planning*, and the complexities of business ownership. Matt uses this experience and the teamwork approach at Renaissance Financial to empower business owners and their key employees and to creatively prepare for high net worth professionals. Matt also specializes in strategizing with families, particularly those with special needs children or relatives, as well as charitable giving from both the donor’s and organizations’ perspectives. 

Renaissance Financial named Matt as Rookie of the Year**, an award given to the advisor with the most production during their first calendar year. He was also named Diamond New & Developing Advisor** the following year by Securian Financial Services. Along with qualifying for multiple clubs within Securian, Matt was named a Million Dollar Round Table*** member and awarded the Excellence in Performance**. Matt holds his FINRA Series 7 and 66 registrations as well as his Life, Accident, and Health Agent license. 

It is easy to see Matt’s intensity and passion while spending time with him. He attributes this to his family’s values of making this world better and enjoying each moment while he is here. Matt and his wife, Amanda, realize these values through community involvement, hiking and camping with their two German Shepherd dogs, biking, and enjoying music. Matt is currently the president of the Phoenix Symphony Young Professionals and a Legacy League member of the Phoenix Symphony. He is also a member of the Biltmore Area Partnership of Phoenix. Matt is involved with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona as a volunteer and member of the Red Shoe Society. He also volunteers with Ducks Unlimited, the Boy Scouts of America Grand Canyon Council, and Saving Paws Rescue Arizona.

Registered Representative and Investment Advisor Representative, Securian Financial Services, Inc.

*Financial Advisors do not provide specific tax/legal advice and this information should not be considered as such.  You should always consult your tax/legal advisor regarding your own specific tax/legal situation.

**Awards and club membership are based primarily on commissions, premiums, or fees generated from investment and insurance products and other criteria relative to leadership, achievement, and recruiting. Working with this individual or firm is not a guarantee of future financial results. Investors should conduct their own evaluation.

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Board Member

Staci Neustadt

Staci Neustadt is a Speech-Language Pathologist with a rich diversity of experience and is an impassioned professional with a proven capacity for creativity and innovation in the entrepreneurial sphere.

Staci has been working in the field of Speech-Language Pathology for 20 years after attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Communication Disorders)

Staci Neustadt

Staci Neustadt is a Speech-Language Pathologist with a rich diversity of experience and is an impassioned professional with a proven capacity for creativity and innovation in the entrepreneurial sphere.

Staci has been working in the field of Speech-Language Pathology for 20 years after attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Communication Disorders), and Arizona State University (M.S., Speech-Language Pathology). While her passion is to empower all of those with diverse abilities, she focuses her passion on supporting the Autistic Community. As a Certified Autism Specialist, she has led social groups, provided individual speech and language therapy for kids with a variety of disabilities and worked closely with families of children that use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

In 2007, Staci used her experience and research to assist in developing Alexicom Tech’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication apps to assist those with complex communication needs. Through her company, Alexicom Tech, Staci has spoken at conferences and continues to educate other professionals on AAC. Staci continues to work with families as well as guides fellow Speech-Language Pathologist as the therapy director at Baio Enterprises. Her passion to help the disability community to achieve their goals in life continues through educating the staff and families at the clinic.

Staci joined D.A.M.E.S. because of her strong belief that when we support the whole family or unit, we can help the individual we work with in therapy so much more. Families are the key to progress in therapy and play an essential role in their child’s development.

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